If you ask Shemara “Kandyy” Pittman about her passions in life, she’ll talk animatedly about photography, and the home remedies she’s used to help others achieve healthy skin and the water-survival skills she teaches at the British Swim School of Metro Charlotte.
Then she breathes a heavy sigh as she segues to the day’s main topic of discussion.
“I was forced,” Kandyy says, turning to Sharon “Sevn” Strickland, “into baking.”
Sevn laughs and concedes her partner’s point: “She was forced.”
“That’s her kitchen,” Kandyy says, gesturing toward the cupcakes Sevn made and the ring lights Sevn has positioned on the countertops of the apartment they share in Ballantyne. “I’m only allowed in it when she needs help. Even when she needs help, I’m in the way. She’s like, ‘OK, just give it here, I’ll do it.’”
Needless to say, the couple and their chemistry in the kitchen (or lack thereof?) should certainly provide for some entertaining viewing on Peacock this month, when NBCUniversal’s streaming service will feature them as one of eight pairs on Season 2 of its baking competition series, “Baking It.”
Being invited onto it was a big coup for Sevn, 24, and Kandyy, 31, who arrived in Charlotte four years ago with $800 to their names — particularly for Sevn, who launched her cake business (The Cake Florist) in 2020 with $25 she invested in a trip to Walmart.
We’ll fill you in on the paths that led them to the show ... but first, briefly:
What exactly is ‘Baking It’?
In the show, a spin-off of NBC’s since-retired crafting competition “Making It,” pairs of home bakers will compete in timed challenges to create baked goods that will be judged by a panel of four real-life baking grandmothers.
As in most series of its ilk, after each round, contestants are eliminated. In this case, the last duo standing takes home a $50,000 prize.
Comedy will no doubt play about as big a role as the actual competition itself does, since the series is being hosted by “Saturday Night Live” alums Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler (the show’s co-creator, replacing Season 1 co-host Andy Samberg).
Meanwhile, premiere night — next Monday — requires a little bit of explaining. “Baking It” launches at 10 p.m. that night with a holiday special focusing on a bake-off between celebrity contestants Fred Armisen, Kristen Bell, Nicole Richie and JB Smoove, who will be competing for money that will go to the winner’s favorite charity.
That episode, which is being labeled as the show’s Season 2 premiere, will air on NBC (WCNC Channel 36 in Charlotte). At the same time, Peacock will instantly make available that special along with the five episodes featuring the “regular-people” contestants on the streaming service. In other words, “Baking It” is binge-able.
Episodes are 60 minutes long.
Now, as for Kandyy and Sevn:
Coming to Charlotte ‘with $800 and a dream’
Kandyy is originally from Rocky Mount, a small eastern North Carolina city that’s about 225 miles away from Charlotte. Sevn grew up in Montgomery, Alabama.
They met after Sevn randomly came across a photo Kandyy had posted on Instagram. Sevn recalls it being a post about something sad, “and I like to bring sunshine and joy to people. So I was like, ‘Hey, if you need anybody to talk to, I’m here. Don’t know you, but Hiiiiiiiii.’” She says Kandyy didn’t respond for a couple days. But after she did, they Facetimed, hit it off immediately and maintained a long-distance relationship for months.
By late 2017, when Kandyy’s mother fell ill, they were a couple, and Sevn made the nine-hour drive so she could be there to help out on a temporary basis. And it seemed natural to start talking about being in the same city together permanently, so they did.
Sevn, at the time, was interested in pursuing a cosmetology career. Her first choice for beauty schools was the Paul Mitchell in Atlanta, since she believed that Atlanta’s was the best of those in the Southeast. But it became clear that being nearly seven hours away from Kandyy’s ailing mom would be problematic.
So they started making preparations to converge on Charlotte, which also had a good Paul Mitchell school.
Then in February 2018, Kandyy’s mother died of kidney failure. In the wake of her passing, Kandyy says, a dispute with her mother’s landlord led to the landlord making off with most of the contents of the apartment, leaving them with almost nothing — forcing Kandyy and her younger sister Aaliyah to bounce around family members’ houses and hotels for awhile.
Although they were now free to go to Atlanta again, Kandyy and Sevn had been focused on Charlotte long enough that they decided to stick to it. Later that same year, they moved from their respective hometowns to the Queen City, Kandyy with Aaliyah in tow.
A close aunt of Sevn’s promised to cover the Paul Mitchell tuition fee (and followed through on that pledge). Otherwise, Kandyy says, they came to this new city only “with $800 and a dream.”
A half-baked idea for starting a cake-making biz
After struggling to find their footing, they settled into a cute little apartment in Ballantyne around the corner from Elevation Church.
But while Kandyy had found odd jobs she loved — shooting photographs, selling skin care products and teaching swim lessons — Sevn ended up not liking being a makeup artist as much as she thought she would.
Actually, it might be more accurate to say she hated it.
This stemmed from the fact that, for much of her life, she’d battled depression and anxiety, exacerbated by a series of family traumas: Her dad died when she was 7 months old, her stepdad died when she was 7, and her mom, she says, “went down a spiral, she wasn’t herself anymore.” Sevn’s home became a toxic environment. She also says classmates picked on her in school because of her weight.
As a makeup artist, most of her clients were sex workers, and most of them, she says, were “brats.” The way they treated her could easily trigger her anxiety. So, when the pandemic hit, she stopped doing makeup work for the sake of her mental health.
Instead, in September 2020, she grabbed a cupcake pan.
It was a pan Aaliyah had bought to make cinnamon rolls, and one day while Aaliyah was at school, Sevn decided to look up a recipe for cupcakes — something she’d never made before. “Then I got to the decorating stage,” Sevn recalls, “and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m in love.’”
Practically on the spot, she decided to try to come up with a business plan and a menu.
“And when I say I started my baking business with $25, I started it with $25,” she says. “I went to Walmart, I bought some strawberries, some chocolate, some little sprinkle glitter things, some flowers, sugar — I think I already had some of the basics for baking — and I just went at it.”
The talent she had for working with colors and her bold sense of creativity, which served her well as a makeup artist, translated easily to her new endeavor. Early on, she was doing a lot of highly specialized products, like cake toppers, dipped strawberries and breakable hearts. But by the time she decided to focus just on cakes and cupcakes, she had found enough success via word of mouth and social media that she could officially call The Cake Florist a career change and not just a hobby.
On top of that, Sevn has found some peace in the kitchen.
“It’s very therapeutic,” she says, “because you can go at your own pace. I like to play my music while I’m doing it. I listen to my sermons. I’m in my own zone, and nobody’s there to be hovering over me, or telling me exactly what to do.”
Or, at least, that’s been the case here in Charlotte. Then along came “Baking It.”
Here’s what they can say about being on the TV
Like with Kandyy, the relationship started on Instagram.
Earlier this year, she saw a sponsored post seeking home bakers interested in being on a reality show. She didn’t dwell on it. But a few days later, she remembered it when a producer reached out to her privately, complimenting her work and asking if she would be interested in auditioning.
“At first I thought it was fake,” Sevn recalls, “and I just scrolled past. I’m like, ‘Whatever.’ Then ... I saw something on TikTok, it was like, ‘You may be missing your blessing,’ or something. So I (went back to his message). I was like, ‘Hmmmmm, let’s see what this is talking about.’”
She wound up responding and they started communicating. In fact, Sevn filled out some of the initial audition-related forms for both herself and Kandyy — without telling Kandyy about it.
When Sevn finally told her she’d submitted an application on their behalf, Kandyy thought her partner was just kidding. She still thought that when Sevn said the producers had scheduled a phone interview. But Sevn showed her the email, the phone actually rang at the scheduled time, and before they knew it, they were catching a flight to California.
Neither had ever been on an airplane in their lives.
They were clearly tickled by the experience, which they of course aren’t at liberty to say much about right now beyond throwing around descriptors like “explosive,” “mind-blowing,” “amazing” and “nerve-wracking.” The word “therapeutic” does not come up, in this case.
In fact, one of the two things they tease is an oven malfunction in the first round that left Sevn in tears.
“In the pictures they released (to promote the show), we look so calm and relaxed,” Kandyy says.
“And so peaceful,” Sevn adds.
“But really,” Kandyy concludes, “it was chaotic.”
The only other spoiler they give? “We did ask Maya and Amy Poehler to adopt us,” Sevn says, “and they said yes. Hopefully they show that.”
We won’t know until we binge our way through all six episodes whether they turned that $25 investment into $50,000 this year, but one thing’s for sure: “Baking It” gave both of them a healthy dose of fresh inspiration.
“When I came back from the show,” Sevn says, “I was like, ‘Ooooo, I saw somebody make this. Let me try to make that. I want to learn how to do this.’ ... I want to make cakes that look like castles. ... I want to make hang-from-the-ceiling-type cakes.”
The bigger surprise, though, is that it’s pushing Kandyy into the baking business, too. In January, she plans to start selling pies online — which means not only will Sevn have to start letting Kandyy into the kitchen, but that the tables might turn in terms of who’s lending a hand to whom.
“No,” Sevn says, when asked if she’ll be Kandyy’s assistant, shaking her head. “No, it don’t work that way.”
“Absolutely not,” Kandyy chimes, laughing.
Sevn laughs, too, and continues: “I can take authority and I can take directions, but I don’t like being hovered over. I don’t like being micromanaged. ... I’m still fitting to help. I’m not gonna withhold my help, like, ‘No, you do it on your own.’ I’m gonna help.”
Then Kandyy nods and smiles, and says to that the exact same thing she’ll tell you if you ask how they did on the show.